March is National Nutrition Month and March 7-11 is National School Breakfast Week, offering a perfect opportunity to discuss the new federal dietary guidelines and their special significance to Idaho.

First and foremost, the new guidelines help ensure children in the Gem State and nationwide have access to nutritious foods. Chief among them are dairy products, which the guidelines note provide three out of four essential nutrients. The four essential nutrients are potassium, vitamin D, calcium, and fiber, and milk is the number-one dietary source for the first three.

Instilling healthy nutrition and physical activity habits at a young age is important to childhood growth and development, and the new guidelines have a huge impact on school food-service programs. School meals are important for assuring student health and academic success, and a growing book of research suggests improving kids’ access to nutritious foods helps them learn.

The new federal dietary guidelines also help ensure Idaho’s economy remains healthy.

Interestingly, the new guidelines directly point out dairy is one food group people are not getting enough of. The updates also clarify that natural sugar in dairy products and fruit like raisins and apples is not considered added sugar, which is important because the revised guidelines suggest Americans limit their sugar intake. Furthermore, dairy foods are also linked to multiple health benefits, including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes and improved bone health.

Obviously this has impacts beyond health implications here in Idaho, because we live in the third largest dairy-producing state in the country. In fact, dairy products comprise nearly one-third of the agricultural sector’s total contribution to Idaho’s economy, and our state’s 500 dairy farms employ more than 23,000 people.

Our dairies also affect the dietary guidelines. As part of the National Dairy Council, Idaho farmers help fund research examining the health benefits of dairy products and milk protein. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture consider this credible, university-led research when updating the federal dietary guidelines every 5 years.

Here in the Gem State we have an entire division devoted to providing science-based nutrition education at no charge. The Idaho Dairy Council’s team of registered dietitians works with scientists, health professionals, educators, athletic directors, coaches, and food assistance programs like WIC and the Idaho Foodbank’s Cooking Matters workshops to keep healthy choices top of mind.

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Meanwhile, Gem State dairy farm families give back $1.6 million annually to support Idaho youth. All of it is focused on youth wellness initiatives and includes integrated health and nutrition information for classrooms, a standardized testing program that supplies string cheese to students taking I-SAT exams, and food-service equipment grants that provide schools with the kitchen tools they need to offer healthier menu options.

These efforts also include our refuel grants for athletics programs and the 12,000 gallons of milk we provide annually to Idaho college athletes — both of which help underscore the importance of rehydrating, refueling, and replenishing. This commitment to the well-being of Idaho youth spans decades, with United Dairymen of Idaho having served as the official sponsor of all Idaho High School Athletics Association state tournaments, meets, and contests since 1984.

So during National Nutrition Month, I urge you to review the new dietary guidelines at health.gov/dietaryguidelines, and please visit IdahoDairy.com for delicious, nutritious recipes that can help you and your family maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Fallow is the CEO of United Dairymen of Idaho.

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